Second Storm Hitting U.S. Northeast Halts Planes, Schools

Second Storm Hitting Northeast Halts Planes, Schools (Bloomberg, Feb 5, 2014):

A second winter storm this week swept into the U.S. Northeast, grounding more than 2,000 planes, closing schools and threatening power lines. A third system is expected in about four days.

Freezing rain was falling in New York as of 5:51 a.m local time and the city may get as much as 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow and sleet, according to the National Weather Service. Light snow was falling in Boston, with as much as 9 inches forecast for the city today.

“Ice is going to accumulate on power lines and tree branches so that, in addition to what snow has already fallen, will lead to some things coming down and potential power outages,” said Joe Pollina, a weather service meteorologist in Upton, New York. “Not to mention the messy commute in the morning with a layer of snow and on top of a layer of ice.”

New York’s Central Park received 8 inches of snow from a storm earlier this week that tied up travelers, including many football fans trying to get home after the weekend’s Super Bowl, when thousands of flights were scrubbed across the Northeast.

From Feb. 3 through yesterday, at least 3,689 flights were canceled, according to FlightAware, a Houston-based airline tracking service. Another 2,048 trips will be scratched for today, the company reported as of 6:23 a.m. in New York.

Regional utilities are preparing for possible outages, company websites show.
Travel Advisory

The New York City Emergency Management Office posted a hazardous-travel advisory because of the ice expected later today and a state of emergency was declared in New Jersey, where the National Football League championship was played Feb. 2.

Boston public schools have been closed for the day, according to the district website. The Charles River campus at Boston University, the city’s largest institute for higher learning, will also be shut, its website showed.

“This could affect both the morning and afternoon commutes, but the morning commute is our greatest concern because it’s expected to snow about 1 to 2 inches an hour,” Rebecca Gould, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts, said by phone. “Snow will definitely be on the ground by the afternoon, and there could be some snow showers still going on.”

The storm was expected to leave mostly ice in Philadelphia.

“This is the way it has been all winter,” said Bernie Rayno, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
Next Storm

When the storm passes, the Northeast will get a three-day respite before the next weather system comes this weekend with a chance of more snow, Rayno said in an interview at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta.

The pattern this winter has been stuck across the U.S. and that has meant chilling cold for mainly the Midwest, with outbreaks reaching the East Coast and South, said Todd Crawford, a principal scientist at Weather Services International in Andover, Massachusetts. WSI is owned by The Weather Co.

The frigid cold gets its start in the Pacific, he said in an interview at the AMS meeting in Atlanta. A deep area of thunderstorm activity over Indonesia has generated heat across the basis accelerating the jet stream, which is made of ribbons of very strong winds that move weather systems around the globe.
High Pressure

That river of air has run into a ridge of high pressure over Alaska, sending it northward before it drops across the continental U.S., according to Crawford. As it moves south through Canada, it picks up polar air that has sent temperatures lower throughout the U.S. several times since January.

“It has stayed cold,” he said. “It’s a stable pattern and that’s a little strange, especially in winter.”

The eastern U.S. has a 50 to 80 percent chance for below-normal temperatures through Feb. 14, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The cold has boosted energy demand. Natural gas prices have surged 26 percent so far this year. Futures for March delivery fell as much as 2.3 percent to $5.252 per million British thermal units in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange today. The contract gained 9.6 percent yesterday, the most since Jan. 29.

About 49 percent of U.S. households use gas for heating purposes, Energy Information Administration data show.

While North America is experiencing cold temperatures, most of the Northern Hemisphere is having a mild winter, according to Crawford. “It is just a small pocket of the U.S.,” he said.

California is suffering from a three-year drought, with reservoirs at record low water levels. The governor declared a drought emergency last month.

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